In this GIMP basics help article I’ll be showing you how to copy and paste selections in GIMP. This task is quick and easy, so let’s dive right in!
Step 1: Draw Your Selection Area
I won’t go into detail on how to draw or create selections in GIMP as there are a variety of ways to do this and a variety of scenarios for the type of selection you may want to create. However, for this tutorial I’ll simply draw a rectangle selection area.
To do this, I’ll grab the rectangle select tool from my Toolbox by clicking on it with my mouse (red arrow in the image above – I can also use the shortcut key “R”).
I’ll then click and drag my mouse across my composition where I’d like to draw my selection (red arrow in the image above). I’ll release my mouse, which will create a selection area boundary denoted by “marching ants” (i.e. the moving dotted line around the selection area).
Step 2: Use Quick Mask to Copy Your Selection
Now that we’ve got our selection area drawn, it’s time to do what you came here for! In GIMP, you copy and paste selection areas using what’s called a “Quick Mask.” This feature is primarily used for quickly painting selection areas on your image, but it’s also used for transferring selections from one composition to another.
To enable this feature, use the shortcut key shift+Q or click on the small icon in the lower left corner of your image window (red arrow in the image above).
When the quick mask is enabled, the outside of your selection boundary will be highlighted with red (blue arrow) and the inside of your selection boundary will not be highlighted (green arrow – i.e. it will be fully transparent).
Once your quick mask is enabled, hit ctrl+c on your keyboard or go to Edit>Copy. Your selection area will now be copied to your clipboard.
Step 3: Paste Your Selection to Your New Composition or Image
Now that your selection area is copied to your clipboard, you’ll want to paste it to your new composition. To do this, start by opening a new image if it isn’t open already (File>Open or shortcut key ctrl+o) or create a new document (File>New or shortcut key ctrl+n). For this example, I hit ctrl+n to create a new composition and used the “Advanced Options” dropdown (blue arrow) to set the background color (red arrow – the “Fill with:” dropdown option) to my foreground color, which is black. Click OK to create the new composition. (Note: if you already have another image or document open, this step is not required.)
Once I have my new composition created, I need to once again enable my quick mask. So, I’ll either use the icon in the lower left corner of the image window (green arrow in the image above) or use the shortcut key shift+q. This time, since I do not currently have a selection area on my composition, the entire image will be highlighted in red.
Now, I’ll hit ctrl+v or go to Edit>Paste to paste the selection area we copied from our original composition. You’ll now see that the area in side our original selection area is displayed on our new composition, with the transparent area in the middle representing inside the selection area (green arrow in the image above).
Now if I hit shift+q once again or click the Quick Mask icon in the lower lefthand corner of the image window (red arrow), you’ll now see the rectangle selection area we created at the beginning of this tutorial on our new composition (green arrow). We have effectively copied and pasted our selection area!
But What If I Want to Copy and Paste a Selection from Within the Same Composition?
Note that selection areas are not tied to any layer in your composition. So, copying and pasting selection areas within the same document is unnecessary. On the other hand, the layer you have active in your layers panel will determine on what layer your selection area will have an effect.
If you’re totally new to the concept of layers and selections, I recommend checking out my GIMP Masterclass to learn more on these subjects, as well as pretty much everything else you need to know about GIMP.